Course correction

It was more recent than I recalled that I, inspired by a minor epiphany, felt competent at last to write something about homosexuality beyond that same-sex attraction is a spiritual affliction and that acting on it is sin.

Here’s a link to what I wrote.

I stand by the substance, with a couple of expansions and one update.

First, the locution “same-sex attraction” was probably coming into disfavor when I wrote. Now, it is derided (among those whose testimonies I trust) as “Christianese,” opaque to the world, and to be shunned in favor of “being gay.” I’m still digesting that argument and unready to change just yet, but neither is it a hill I’m willing to die on.

Second, I would double-down on my skepticism about orientation change, if only because I’ve learned that there are a lot of people still selling and buying that snake oil. I wouldn’t bet my life against orientation change, but I’d bet a lot.

I now think that some of the “ex-gay” gurus are conscious frauds — fraudulent in the same way that guys like Benny Hinn are fraudulent. (Others may be letting others’ expectations of holiness determine what they’ll profess to have attained. And there are many other possibilities from this crooked timber of humanity, from which so few straight things are made.)

Third, I feel a need to say that almost everything positive I write about gay Christians is about those committed to celibacy — “Side B” in the argot of these Christians themselves. I have never encountered anything I thought a credible argument for the Christian licitness of gay sex (and if I did, it would have a well-nigh insurmountable hill to climb — 2000 years of Christian teaching — to convince me.

Finally, the update. Back then I wrote:

I’m not sure why they might feel a need to be publicly open and transparent about the sexual particulars of their sickness (versus open with a select few for purposes of support); I feel no need to be publicly open and transparent about the temptations I’m not going to name here.

That was literally true when written: I wasn’t sure. But I actually meant “when they talk about it so much, it starts creeping me out.”

I now have a better idea why they may need to talk about it so much, and why I need to listen (yes, and maybe push back some times) more patiently than I was ready for a few years ago. (I’m not going to try putting the reasons in words because I have something better than that. Stay tuned.)

But I’ve also had some other little epiphanies, converging, whence this current offering.

For one thing, I’ve always sensed the force of this apocryphal Martin Luther quote:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him.

It is clear to me that the world and the devil at this moment (and for the last 50 years or so of accumulated moments) are attacking in the area of sexuality:

Conservative Christians are fond of using this [Luther] quote to insist that we must stand up for the truth of the historic Christian sexual ethic even as it is being attacked in contemporary Western cultures, and that to fail to do so is to fail to be orthodox, faithful, biblical. And, in a mainline Protestant church like the one I belong to, I feel the force of this. These days it can seem easy to preach Christ in every way but the way that He challenges progressive sexual mores.

(Wesley Hill) That is a partial answer to why I have read a lot, thought a lot and written a lot about these issues, and naming that motivation was an epiphany of sorts, though a very minor one. Before that, I had been reflexively “trimming.”

A bigger epiphany is expressed, but not exhausted, by a continuation of Wesley Hill’s comment on the Luther quote:

And yet “the world” that “Luther” mentions in that quote is not always the world of progressive secularism/liberalism. Sometimes “the world” attacks the truth of Christ on the second point that Fr. White mentions — by tempting Christians to demean, disdain, ignore, overburden, or otherwise harm LGBTQ people. “The world” and “the devil” can manifest themselves in so-called “progressivism,” yes—and they can manifest themselves just as easily whenever a Christian heaps shame on LGBTQ people (“There’s something more askew in your life than there is in that of heterosexuals,” is what a pastor once told me), or offers a quick solution to their complex dilemmas (“Just get married!” is literally the advice I saw from a conservative Christian last week, as if I haven’t ever considered that possibility), or caricatures their sex lives (“Gay culture is inherently promiscuous”), or damages their faith (“If you want healing from same-sex attraction, it is available, and you have only to say yes,” I have been promised by Christians numerous times), or in any number of other ways attacks their dignity. If you are in a so-called conservative church and you are loudly proclaiming the truth about homosexuality at every point but at the point where that truth insists on the worth and lovability of LGBTQ people — if you are binding up heavy burdens on them and not lifting a finger to help (cf. Matthew 23:4) — then you are not proclaiming Christian truth, no matter how much you may seize the high ground and claim otherwise.

Several converging articles, podcasts, YouTubes and such drove that home to me as never before, and several of them centered on the recently-completed Revoice18 conference, a gathering of celibate gay Christians under the umbrella of SpiritualFriendship, in a conservative Calvinist (PCA) Church in St. Louis.

Some of what I read, heard or saw critiqued or defended the whole idea of celibate gay Christians, with the criticisms tending to niggle over the adjective “gay.” It came from self-styled Calvinists (“Reformed”) and certifiable Southern Baptists. Their critiques were well familiar to the conferees, to the point of murmurs of approval at refutations. I’ll not try to summarize it because although I was in that critics’ general camp by instinct a few years ago, I’m moving away from it now by conviction.

Another epiphany was confirmation that my intuition, which I had barely dared to utter aloud, was true: a lot of people who think themselves “transgender” are dealing with unresolved conflict over homosexual urges. I no longer need to intuit about that, or worry that I’m naïvely grabbing a third rail that will kill me. Many teenagers who think they’re trangender ultimately desist from that, but they’re generally homosexual at that point. Others who went far into “transitioning” and then de-transitioned report the same drive.

Apparently, life as a homosexual person can be so humiliating and frightening that a non-trivial number of people respond by attempting to become the sex appropriate to their erotic urges. I guess I’ve led too sheltered a life. (I’m resisting a temptation to digress here; let me just summarize that I’m still not sure that public accommodations laws are efficiacious at relieving unaffected humiliation and fright.)

It’s even bad in the Church (bracketing the question of whether it’s even worse):

  • “It was easier for me, as a convert from atheism, to trust that God loved me, than for a gay kid who grew up in the church. Shouldn’t that shock us?” (Eve Tushnet).
  • For many celibate gay Christians, there’s a feeling of being “harassed by our Churches, and seen as utter fools by the world,” to paraphrase Johanna Finegan.
  • Part of that harassment is a pernicious persistence of belief in reparative therapy, converting gay Christians into straight Christians, consonant with the metanarrative that gays are broken heterosexuals.
  • If the Church harasses, beats up, distrusts and otherwise abuses someone, it can break them, and they may not find their way home again.

Don’t we need at least to think harder about what to do to make it less humiliating and frightening in the Church which, after all, is chock full of sundry sinners with manifold temptations?

Yet another epiphany that still boggles my mind (though that epiphany has been around a while; it’s not new) is that these pictures are not “gay.” They depict an easy and un-selfconscious friendship that we’ve lost in the U.S., perhaps throughout the West.

That says more about us than about these guys. There is so much more that could be said, but someone else will need to do it or you’ll have to wait until I’m ready. As they say, “I. Just. Can’t. Even.”

The folks at the Revoice conference are trying to recover something like such friendships, while their critics are echoing Sigmund Freud in sexualizing the very idea. “Flee! Run as far and fast as you can!” is the gist of it, and what comes across is “learn to live life without any emotional intimacy, because the opposite sex doesn’t have time for you and you might get a rise in your Levis if you attempt same-sex friendship.”

Excuse me as I have a little reverie about our Lord’s excoriation those who lay on burdens heavy to bear.

Call all that an epic (or at least self-indulgent) introduction.

I had imagined writing a blog that went into some detail about what I’ve learned. But I don’t think anything I could write would top the 43 minute, 17 second pre-conference Revoice18 talk of Johanna Finegan.

A man at her church, concerned about her upcoming attendance and presentation at Revoice18 said “It sounds like these people think it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it.” She responded “Well, yes. What’s the alternative? Not getting out of bed in the morning?”

Just so.

There’s some refinement needed about what it means to “not act on it,” but I’ll step aside now:

This in particular (38:15) challenges me:

“Maybe we can see it as a gift to the world — a beautiful, confounding witness … We declare that something is more valuable than the sex and the romantic love we naturally long for. We declare that genuine Christianity changes and shapes your whole life … We declare that Jesus Christ is sublimely and absolutely worthy and worth it. And maybe we can see it as a gift to the Church. Our lives could be illustrations of what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus that can help our straight brothers and sisters. Our lives can depict what it’s like to follow God, we know not where ….

Some of what the Spiritual Friendship/Revoice18 people are saying, and what I’m now inclined to believe, probably has a “sell-by date.” Remember that I’m a “trimmer.” Maybe — heck, almost certainly — we risk overcorrection, but correct we must, in what another blogger calls “the present cultural moment.”

So it seems to me.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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What I miss these days

After Obama’s opening remarks, CEO Eric Schmidt — who would later endorse Obama and campaign for him — joined him on stage to lead a long and wide-ranging Q&A. While much of the discussion focused on predictable subjects, in the closing minutes Obama addressed a less obvious issue: the need to use technology and information to break through people’s ill-founded opinions. He said that as president he wouldn’t allow “special interests” to dominate public discourse, for instance in debates about health care reform, because his administration would reply with “data and facts.” He added, jokingly, that “if they start running ‘Harry and Louise’ ads, I’ll run my own ads, or I’ll send out something on YouTube. I’m president and I’ll be able to — I’ll let them know what the facts are.”

But then, joking aside, he focused squarely on the need for government to use technology to correct what he saw as a well-meaning but too often ignorant public:

You know, one of the things that you learn when you’re traveling and running for president is, the American people at their core are a decent people. There’s a generosity of spirit there, and there’s common sense there, but it’s not tapped. And mainly people — they’re just misinformed, or they are too busy, they’re trying to get their kids to school, they’re working, they just don’t have enough information, or they’re not professionals at sorting out all the information that’s out there, and so our political process gets skewed. But if you give them good information, their instincts are good and they will make good decisions. And the president has the bully pulpit to give them good information.

And that’s what we have to return to: a government where the American people trust the information they’re getting. And I’m really looking forward to doing that, because I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback — everything that allows you to do what you do, that’s what we should be doing in our government. [Crowd applauds.]

I want people in technology, I want innovators and engineers and scientists like yourselves, I want you helping us make policy — based on facts! Based on reason!

The moment is captured perfectly in Steven Levy’s book In the Plex, where he writes of Obama: “He thought like a Googler.”

Obama then invoked the famous apocryphal line of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” Obama finished his speech by pointing to the crucial role that Google could play in a politics based on facts:

And part of the problem that we’re having … is, we constantly have a contest where facts don’t matter, and I want to restore that sense of decisions being based on facts to the White House. And I think that many of you can help me, so I want you to be involved.

Adam J. White, Google.gov, The New Atlantis.

This quote is not remotely representative of the whole long article (which I commend to those hardier than me or with even more time on their hands), but it evoked in me a nostalgia for Barack Obama, who for all his flaws (I particularly rued his tone-deafness on religious liberty) had a temperament that I miss terribly these days.

But lest it be thought that I have nothing good to say about Donald Trump, I note that one of my blog categories has fallen into disuse: “Zombie Reaganism,” my epithet for the prevailing Republican political posture for a decade or so.

Trump has cured the GOP of that, though I fear his cure is worse than the disease.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Jesus, loser

I think Christian Smith pretty well described Moralistic Therapeutic Deism when he coined the term, but Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon’s definition is now my favorite:

The function of Church in society is to keep spiritually healthy and morally upright those who are pursuing the American Dream.

But according to Luke, the Gospel is to leave all things and embrace the cross daily.

Could anything be more opposed to the cross of Christ than a life dedicated to the quest for personal prosperity? … What Jesus warns this man about is a life in which he loves God with his whole heart, loves his neighbor as himself, and goes about making as much money as he can … Wealth itself so easily becomes idolatrous.

If wealth is the mark of success, then think about it: Who are the failures? Who are the “losers”? …

Can any philosophy be more at odds with the cross of Christ than the [social Darwinist] survival of the fittest? The cross is the absolute answer to Darwin, just as the absolute answer to Nietszche and the will to power. The cross stands against all of that.

The basic floor of the cross of Calvary is that Jesus did not survive. He died as a poor man who had nothing to show for his life. He left no bank account. He was a loser. As he died, he was obliged to leave the care of his widowed mother to another poor man. By every standard recognized in the money market, Jesus was a failure. A poor man who died a poor man.

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Too many things to give up

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

(I Corinthians 9:24-27)

When we train there are all kinds of things we have to add to our regimen: stretching, weight-lifting, and so forth. But there are also things that we have to subtract: sweets, drinking, and other things. When you’re training, what you take away is just as important as what you add, but when you talk to Christians it’s all about what their faith adds to their lives and never about what it takes away. And the thing with college students, and the reason why they’re Moralistic Therapeutic Deists is not just because they haven’t been trained properly in certain practices, it’s because there are too many things they don’t want to give up, especially sex and drinking, but also their desire for material success. And so they think about God in a way that allows them to do things they want to do but not be held morally responsible for them, nor be required to take things out of their lives. In my Bible study I am constantly arguing with them about their claim that God wants us to be happy. “Where are you getting that from? That’s not in the Bible. God wants us to be holy, not happy.” But you can’t get anywhere with that argument.

(Student interacting with her prof after Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option lecture at Notre Dame)

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.